Duke reveals details of his role in wartime naval battle

The Duke of Edinburgh has written in detail about his role in a dramatic wartime battle which took place in the Mediterranean more than seven decades ago.

Prince Philip, who turned 90 in 2011, has written the foreword for the first in a series of books about some of the great naval actions and campaigns of World War II.

The Britannia Naval Histories of World War II series, published by the University of Plymouth Press, has been compiled from wartime and post-war battle summaries in the archives at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

The Duke himself studied at Britannia – to be followed later by his sons Princes Charles and Andrew and his grandson Prince William – graduating top of his class in early 1940. He became a midshipman in January of that year.

He served on several vessels before joining HMS Valiant, and was a midshipman on board when she was involved in the Battle for Cape Matapan – which saw the Royal and Australian Navies defeat their Italian counterparts – in March 1941.

In the foreword for Dark Seas: The Battle for Cape Matapan, Prince Philip, who was tasked with operating a searchlight at night on board HMS Valiant, writes about his role in one night’s fighting during the battle. He says:

“I seem to remember that I reported that I had a target in sight, and was ordered to ‘open shutter’. The beam lit up a stationary cruiser, but we were so close by then that the beam only lit up half the ship. At this point all hell broke loose, as all our eight 15-inch guns, plus those of the Flags ship and Barham’s started firing at the stationary cruiser, which disappeared in an explosion and a cloud of smoke.
"I was then ordered to ‘train left’ and lit up another Italian cruiser, which was given the same treatment. The next morning the battle fleet returned to the scene of the battle, while attempts were made to pick up survivors. This was rudely interrupted by an attack by German bombers. The return to Alexandria was uneventful, and the peace and quiet was much appreciated.”

Other wartime operations covered in the series include the hunt for the German warship Tirpitz, the battle for Norway in 1940 and Hitler’s ghost ships, with the forewords being written by some of the nation’s most senior naval officers, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band and Admiral Lord West. The books’ introductions have all been written by staff members at the College.

The series is the brainchild of Dr Harry Bennett, Associate Professor in History at the University of Plymouth and a trustee of the museum and collections at Britannia Royal Naval College.

It has been several years in the pipeline, with the majority of the research being carried out by commissioning editor Charlotte Carey, a former MA Publishing student at the University.

Dr Bennett, who has written the introductions for two of the four books, said:

“These books serve as a reminder of why we need the Royal Navy, and they celebrate the heroism of the men and women who are proud to serve under its White Ensign. We are an island nation and depend on the Navy to keep our borders safe, not just in times of war but also to secure vital trade routes for import and export.”

Part of the proceeds from sales will go towards secure the historic book and museum collection at Britannia Royal Naval College.

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